Madrid reacted with outrage when Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced HMS Trent would be based in the territory full time as part of the UK’s military review. Senator José Ignacio Landaluce, who is also Mayor of Algeciras, has asked the Spanish Government if the ship’s imminent arrival is “an act of aggression or intimidation” against Spain.
But the Rock’s chief minister Fabian Picardo has played down the deployment, insisting the strategic move should not be seen as an “escalation of tension” between Britain and Spain.
Mr Picardo acknowledged the measure announced in a command paper last Monday represented a reinforcement of the naval base on Gibraltar it was not an “offensive movement” against Spain.
He said HMS Trent “will not operate in Gibraltar or around Gibraltar” and will only go to its base to stock up or rest.
Mr Wallace said the warship, until now based in Portsmouth, will have its permanent base in Gibraltar from the end of the year.
It will be the first time a vessel has been based permanently in the British Overseas Territory and will represent the new approach, which Mr Wallace described as “globally engaged, constantly campaigning and forward deployed”.
Mr Picardo said the UK’s Defence Review reinforced Gibraltar’s strategic value as a forward mounting base and should not overshadow future relationship negotiations with Spain.
HMS Trent is a 90.5 metre River-class offshore patrol vessel with 34 crew members, a 30mm gun and the capacity to board a Merlin helicopter.
Defence analysts said the permanent deployment represents a leap in the Royal Navy’s capacity in Gibraltar, where until now it only has two small patrol boats which have been involved in numerous incidents with Spanish fishermen and the Civil Guard in waters off the Rock.
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MoD chiefs said HMS Trent’s mission will be “to support NATO operations in the Mediterranean, work with our North African partners and cooperate with multinational operations against piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and West Africa”.
They said it would also be “integrating with the French Navy in the Franco-British Expeditionary Force”.
The vessel is one of the most modern in the Royal Navy, having entered service in August last year when it joined NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian in the Mediterranean and made a supply stop at Gibraltar.
The Royal Navy has deployed patrol boats similar to HMS Trent in the Falklands, the Caribbean and the Middle East.
“He told me that this is a small way of strengthening the special partnerships that exist between Gibraltar and the United Kingdom and I could not agree more.
“Our departure from the EU has meant that the popular funding streams for employment and business have come to an end and this will go some way towards replacing it.
“I have already written to Mr Jenrick to thank him for the inclusion of Gibraltar.”
Before the UK’s departure from the EU, the Rock received most of the structural funds through the European Social Fund, the Regional Development Fund and others.
But these programs have since ended following Britain’s departure from the bloc last year.
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)